India will try to bridge fissures, says T S Tirumurti, India’s UN ambassador

India’s eighth stint as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council will begin on Friday
T S Tirumurti, India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.(pminewyork.gov.in)
T S Tirumurti, India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.(pminewyork.gov.in)
Updated on Dec 31, 2020 10:27 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, Washington, DC | ByYashwant Raj

India will begin on Friday its eighth stint as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in the New Year, hoping to bring together the world’s most exclusive club of nations split by differences that have been worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic that has killed more than 1.8 million people.

“India will work in an inclusive manner and try and bridge the fissures in the council between the member states, exacerbated by Covid,” T S Tirumurti, the Indian permanent representative to the UN, said in a wide-ranging interview ahead of the start of a two-year term, technically on January 1 but effectively on January 4, the first working day of the new year.

“We look forward to working closely with all members of the council,” Tirumurti added in response to a question about how he will deal with China, one of the five permanent members of the council.

China has been unabashedly adversarial, so much so that it had even tried to prevent the council from condemning the Pulwama terror attack.

India was last on the council in a two-year term ending 2012. That was the seventh. Its previous terms were 1950-1951, 1967-1968, 1972-1973, 1977-1978, 1984-1985 and 1991-1992.

Question: What are India’s objectives going into its eighth stint as a non-permanent member of the UNSC?

Tirumurti: You are right, we are no strangers to the Security Council. This will be the eighth time that we will take our seat in the Security Council as an elected member. Every time India has been in the Security Council, we have contributed in a significant way to enhance peace and security – right from the first stint in the Council in 1950-51 when we played an important constructive role in the Korean War.

In the council, we have stood for decolonisation (of) Africa and the Middle East, against apartheid, for developing countries, for democracy and rule of law, for multilateralism and for peace, security, human rights and development. We hope to reinforce these and work to combat terrorism, bring in reform, focus on maritime security and peace keeping, nudge the council towards peace building with greater participation of women and youth, and use technology for broader human welfare.

But as importantly, India will work in an inclusive manner and try and bridge the fissures in the Council between the member states, exacerbated by Covid.

Question: What are the prospects of achieving tangible progress in the reform of the UNSC, such as a movement towards adopting a text for negotiations? (Despite years of discussion, there is no document or a set of points to negotiate, accept or reject)

Tirumurti: Well, the United Nations, which is the foremost multilateral body in the world today, is still stuck in 1945. The world has changed considerably since then and become truly multipolar. But the UN refuses to give space to a multipolar world thereby rendering multilateralism ineffective. The sad reality is that a handful of status-quoists have consistently opposed any reform and use the smoke-screen of what is called the Intergovernmental Negotiation (IGN) process to stop any move towards a consensus for reform.

Unfortunately, this so-called process has dragged on for more than a decade without even commencing text-based negotiations. The naysayers are opposed to even the General Assembly rules of procedure to be applied to the IGN process. In the absence of General Assembly rules of procedure, no records are kept, there is no interpretation and no attribution to positions taken by member states.

In other words, we have a process which is all talk and no action. We are determined to work with other like-minded countries to break this logjam.

Question: Do you expect to use the stint to bolster India’s case for a permanent seat?

Tirumurti: The process for the Security Council reforms happens initially in the General Assembly. However, our credentials have been established and acknowledged by almost all countries. But our tenure in the Security Council will give us an additional opportunity to demonstrate to the global community how important it is for the Security Council to be more representative and reflective of contemporary realities.

Question: How will India use the term to address the most urgent crisis facing the world at the time, the Covid-19 pandemic?

Tirumurti: At the outset, we need to remember that the mandate of the Security Council is primarily dealing with peace and security issues. The pandemic, while it is certainly a global crisis, is per se an issue that falls primarily in the realm of global health.

Multilateral agencies such as World Health Organization are in the front line for pandemic response. In this context, what this crisis has demonstrated is that the global institutions are not equipped to handle a truly global crisis.

In fact, plurilateral organisations such as the G20 have been more nimble and adept at addressing these Covid challenges. However, the Security Council will have to factor in the pandemic response while looking at global hot spots. For example, it broadly endorsed a call by the UN Secretary General for a global ceasefire, while making an exception for fighting terrorism.

Question: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for increased multilateralism in a post-Covid-19 world. How will that play out in real terms at this multilateral forum?

Tirumurti: PM Modi has actually called for reformed multilateralism. But yes, what the crisis has showed us is that genuine inclusive multilateralism is the way forward in a multipolar world. Today, there is talk of multilateralism in crisis. However, it is in crisis because countries do not see multilateralism delivering the results they desire.

So, the Prime Minister’s call for reformed multilateralism is for reflecting this multipolarity in multilateral institutions and processes. My feeling is that reform in multilateralism is inevitable and the question is when and not if.

Question: With a seat at the Security Council, will India be able to deal better with China’s obstructionist actions, such as its opposition to the designation of Masood Azhar, the founder of Jaish-e-Mohammad?

Tirumurti: As far as terrorism is concerned, India’s position is crystal clear – we oppose terrorism and we have zero-tolerance for terrorism, no matter what its justification is. Many Pakistani terrorists and entities are already in the 1267 Sanctions list.

In fact, Pakistan has the highest number of terrorists inscribed in this list in keeping with its reputation as the epicenter of terrorism. On China, let me just say that India has a positive and constructive agenda in the Security Council and we look forward to working closely with all members of the Council.

Question: Indians will expect the non-permanent membership to be used to bring more attention on China’s growing aggression, which has raised concerns around the world. Do you think that will be a fair ask?

Tirumurti: What we do in the Security Council is to deliberate on issues of common security concern for the world and not necessarily focus on bilateral issues. The history of our successive tenures in the Security Council is testament to the fact that we do not shy away from standing up for our sovereignty, for securing common security interests, for our principles and for international peace and security, no matter who the aggressor is.

Question: How will India use the eighth term to advance the goal of combating terrorism in the neighbourhood and around the world?

Tirumurti: We are one of the biggest victims of terrorism, especially cross-border terrorism. Decades of combating terrorism exported from our neighbour has resulted in steeling our determination against this menace. We will not accept any dilution of our fight against terrorism. We will not accept any justifications being given for terror, which some countries are doing their best to justify, even giving it a religious colour.

Unfortunately, some like the UN Alliance of Civilisations are providing fodder for such justification. We are ready to stand with any country, inside the Security Council or outside, who are willing to advance our common objective to counterterrorism. We don’t want to go back to pre-9/11 days where the world was split into “your terrorist” and “my terrorist”. The world needs to guard against such attempts to skew the narrative.

Question: India has been a world leader on climate change. The Prime Minister launched the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure at the UN in 2019. What more can be expected on this front in the next two years?

Tirumurti: You are right. India is one of the few major economies to have walked the talk on climate change. According to the International Climate Action Tracker, India is the only country among the top five whose actions are on track to keep global warming below 2-degree Celsius target.

We have already reduced our emission intensity by 21% over 2005 levels. Solar power has grown to 36GW. Our renewable energy capacity is already fourth largest in the world and will reach 175 GW by 2022.

You mentioned the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure. Besides that, the Prime Minister, along with the French President (Emmanuel Macron), also launched the International Solar Alliance which has been opened up for universal membership. India has already committed US$ 1.7 billion in soft loans for solar energy.

You asked what more can be expected in the next two years. In fact, this is a question that we often ask to other countries who have made time-bound commitments but are nowhere near to fulfilling those. As the Prime Minister said recently, we should first review our achievements against targets already set. Only then will our voices be credible. We have called on the developed countries to not keep shifting the goal post of climate targets but demonstrate action, including those related to climate financing.

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